One thing you can count on when it comes to “usable” web site design is that nobody can agree on what that is. Is the perfect user experience when a web page comes up near the top in search engine rank? Is it high conversions? Is it a site that blind persons can use?

One of the quirks of Twitter is that you can participate in spontaneous one on one conversations and your “followers” can “listen” in. The other day my friend Elizabeth Able picked my brain with questions like “Is marketing like war?”.

I replied with my 147 character limit,

War? no. War is forceful, no choice. Marketing is ideas, persuasion, suggestion, competitiveness…

Thinking about marketing, she asked about war vs. competition. Are they the same or different? I said,

I think to compete is to lose with grace and war is a fight that never ends.

Competition allows for negotiation and permits the wise ones to learn from the experience. War teaches more war.

Liz wondered if marketing can work without hype?

I felt that,

Marketing w/o hype? Yes. It’s called value proposition and that has to be honest and real, not fake.

How do these marketing questions relate to user experience design?

The other day I visited a site that claimed to do online usability reviews of various web sites as a weekly feature. I read their critique. I hope the company didn’t pay for it. The feedback was “The colors are boring”. It was designed for 640 resolution. First of all, for a weekly feature, I would choose a web site built in the present century to review.

There was no information on conversions or traffic. Nothing about value proposition, credibility or accessibility. Clearly, there are parts of the planet that aren’t on the usability train yet or don’t understand WHY a heuristic exists.

The search engine marketing industry is often at odds with one another about setting best practice standards. Obviously, for an industry made up of people who tend to be quite independent thinkers, the very idea of rules or being told how to do their job by some governing entity isn’t going over very well.

The same standards idea exists on the usability side. No two usability companies, when given a site to test, will come back with the same results. When Jakob Nielsen came out with “discount usability” and testing heuristics, he may as well have stood on a mountain top reading from tablets. His Alertbox posts are still often considered usability gospel.

I consider his advice as guidance and observations. His data is often really helpful, if even only to add insight or understanding into a common practice or behavior. Most practitioners, in both the SEO and user centered design houses, test practices and theories. They have to. Nothing on the Internet stays the same. Human/computer behavior changes as we adapt to the latest technology or cool-web-thing, like social networking.

Why the Dark Ages?

Matt Bailey wrote an exceptional blog post on real estate web sites that shows just how far behind one niche remains when it comes to web site design. He nails point after point in Online Marketing in Real Estate – Fast Start to Stagnation

Not only does he point out all the ridiculous usability errors, but as someone trying to use real estate sites to find a new home, he’s a potential customer who is finding the user experience to be infuriating.

When I was looking to buy a new house in 2003, I ran into the same thing. I wasted untold hours on real estate web sites that didn’t know how to sell online, but were chomping at the bit to get my personal information so they could call me.

Finally, it was the photography that worked. I swore I’d never buy a cape cod style home. I never liked them. Then one day I went onto my local realtor’s web site, which is barely tolerable, and found 10 rotating views of a cape style house interior located nearby that looked move-in ready. The pictures showed all the living space on the inside, but they forget to add some other value proposition points.

Therefore, when my kids and husband-to-be drove down the long driveway and saw the built-in pool in the back, it was a real shocker! Then, there was the huge half circle garden leading up to the deck coming off the back of the house that was designed as a private paradise. The house was loaded with extras and had room for my home office and organic vegetable gardens. None of this was mentioned on the real estate web site.

I made an offer that same day. It may not have happened if the site didn’t at least have professional photos on it. I could have cared less what the resolution was. (However these days, a mobile phone ready real estate web site is a strong competitive design choice.) I’ll always wonder why the Realtor didn’t include the pool in the house description or place any emphasis on the outside of the property. Some buyers, like myself, are gardeners or like trees and fields around them. These are selling points.

It can seem to some as though online marketing has to be cut throat and in your face to be noticed. To me, there’s nothing more frustrating than “get rich quick” schemes and affiliate template sites that show no character or USP. I’m uncomfortable with boldface text yelling at me to buy something. Who has the time to read a mile-long scrolling corn field of endless content?

Bad web site design is not a good teacher.  One person’s bad design is another person’s perfect web site. The true measure of success is brand trust, customer satisfaction, word of mouth referrals, continued business and steady sales leads. Search engines notice.

When usability reviews are presented from the perspective of marketing, it becomes easier to understand the importance of user experience design. Boring colors will not make or break a sale. Neither will flexible or fixed width pages. These are user annoyances and factors to consider for your business requirements but in no way should any design review settle for limited fixes like these.

Today’s user experience enabled web site is an honest and frank design. It’s friendly. It’s easy to understand. The experience includes what happened to find it, how your visitors feel when they arrive and leave and especially if they feel persuaded to come back.

I Turn 50 in an Only-30-Somethings-Are-Hot World
Don't Make Me Do a Damned Thing Usability Design


Kim Krause Berg’s long background in web design, SEO and usability includes software application functional and user interface testing, accessibility, information architecture and persuasive design. She shared her passion for Usability and SEO through her site and private consulting at Cre8pc for 17 years. Kim founded Cre8asiteforums in 1998. In the fall of 2012 she sold her forums to Internet Marketing Ninjas and retired from private consulting to join their Executive Management team where she continues her work in usability testing, customer experience and conversions design.

My Online Course: Web Site Usability 101


American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T)

Information Architecture Institute

Usability Professionals Association (UPA)